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Sporting events are bringing big crowds and big business back to Blaine this summer, signaling a return to normalcy after a year without fans.

Such events are a big driver of Blaine's economy, and their absence last year was felt acutely. But relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and the return of two tournaments that bring thousands of fans to the city has kicked the local economy back into high gear.

Long lines formed at restaurants in the north metro suburb Thursday afternoon as golf fans attending the PGA Tour's 3M Open sought refuge when rain and the threat of lightning forced suspension of play.

The proverbial lunch rush truly was a rush at Bricks Kitchen and Pub, where the bar was jammed and tables filled up.

"We were slammed," said Thomas Masteller, the eatery's operator. "We were not quite prepared."

The city was still dealing with the loss of the Minnesota United soccer team to St. Paul when the pandemic canceled last year's Target Cup USA Soccer tournament and stopped fans from attending the 3M golf tournament. The steady sight of customers this month has been a welcome change after the drop in business, Masteller said.

Masteller said the community supported his restaurant during the pandemic, but without major sporting events he was not able to keep everybody on the payroll.

All 34 hourly employees — table staff, cooks and dishwashers — were furloughed, he said. Now, Masteller said, he has been able to call all of them back.

This week's golf tournament, which runs through Sunday at the TPC Twin Cities golf club, is expected to bring $50 million to the city and region, said Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders

For the city's hotels, restaurants and businesses, July has "been like Black Friday," the mayor said, in a nod to the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. "It's critical."

Aside from the economic benefits, the tournaments help put Blaine on the map as a sports destination and showcase the fast-growing city of 65,000 residents, Sanders said.

Already home to the National Sports Center, which with 50 full-sized soccer fields and an eight-sheet ice rink hosts hundreds of events annually, Blaine is not done trying to attract other sporting events. A group in April approached the city with an interest in building an independent minor league baseball complex.

"The proposal is in the very preliminary stage," said spokesman Ben Hayle. "Talks are ongoing."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768